What are Cocaine Eyes?

What are Cocaine Eyes

Cocaine is a powerful illicit stimulant drug that comes in the form of a white powder. Cocaine is usually snorted, but it can also be smoked or injected. In 2021, about 4.8 million people reported using cocaine and 1.4 million were addicted to it.

When used, cocaine produces energizing and uplifting effects, often making users more awake, focused, chatty, and confident. It also increases heart rate, body temperature, and respiration. However, cocaine abuse can also affect your eyes and vision.

What are “Cocaine Eyes?”

One of the alarming and visible signs of cocaine use is often referred to as “cocaine eyes.” “Cocaine eyes” is a colloquial term used to describe the physical changes in a person’s eyes resulting from cocaine use. These changes are primarily attributed to the drug’s impact on the cardiovascular and nervous systems which results in large dilated pupils while under the effects of the drug. There are both immediate and long-term effects of cocaine use on the eyes.

Understanding the Immediate Effects of Cocaine on the Eyes

The effects of cocaine appear shortly after ingestion. Cocaine use can alter the appearance of the eyes, resulting in key characteristics that define “cocaine eyes.” For example:


Immediate Effects of Cocaine on the Eyes


  • Dilated pupils – Cocaine is known to cause pupil dilation, which means the black center of the eye becomes larger than usual. Dilated pupils can be a noticeable sign of cocaine use, especially in well-lit environments. However, it is important to note that any stimulant drug, including meth, can also cause pupil dilation.
  • Red or bloodshot eyes – Cocaine can lead to the constriction of blood vessels in the eyes, resulting in red or bloodshot eyes. This is often referred to as “red eye” and is similar to the effect seen in people who are high on marijuana.
  • Watery or tearing eyes – Cocaine can irritate the eyes and lead to excessive tearing. This can give the eyes a glassy or watery appearance while someone is under the influence of the drug.
  • Constricted blood vessels – In some cases, particularly after a cocaine binge, chronic cocaine use can lead to vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body, including the eyes. This can cause a “pinpoint” appearance in the pupils, making the pupils appear very small.
  • Rapid eye movements – Cocaine can also cause rapid eye movements, known as nystagmus. This can make a person’s eyes appear jittery or unfocused.

The severity of these symptoms depends on factors such as the person’s tolerance level, amount and frequency of cocaine use, individual physiology, and the presence of other drugs in the body.

Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Eyes

Using cocaine in the long term can be harmful to your vision and eye health. Long-term effects of cocaine on the eyes may include:


Nystagmus is a medical condition that is characterized by involuntary and rapid eye movements that can occur in various directions, including side-to-side, up and down, or in a circular pattern. Cocaine abuse can lead to nystagmus because it impairs the muscles, nerves, and brain tissue associated with eye movements and control.


Glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S., can develop as a result of long-term cocaine abuse. Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damage the optic nerve, typically due to increased pressure within the eye. Since cocaine increases blood pressure, it can cause a long-term increase in fluid eye pressure, increasing the risk of glaucoma.

Talc Retinopathy

Talc retinopathy is a rare eye condition caused by the deposition of talc or similar substances in the small blood vessels of the retina. However, cocaine is often cut with talcum powder, and cocaine abuse can cause the buildup of crystal deposits in the retina that are associated with talc retinopathy.


Keratitis is a condition characterized by the inflammation of the cornea, the clear, dome-shaped front surface of the eye. It can cause eye pain, redness, light sensitivity, blurry vision, and excessive tearing.

Keratitis can occur in people who smoke cocaine. The vapors and fumes from smoking, combined with dry eyes and a suppressed blinking reflex (common with cocaine use), can result in keratitis.


Maculopathy refers to any pathological condition affecting the macula, a small but critical area near the center of the retina responsible for sharp central vision. It leads to the degeneration of the retina. Although typically attributed to aging, diabetes, or other eye conditions, cocaine can increase the risk of maculopathy due to the effects of cocaine on body tissue.


Jaundice is a medical condition characterized by the yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and the white part of the eyes (sclera). It is a tell-tale sign of liver failure, which is a potential risk of long-term cocaine abuse.

Get Help for Cocaine Abuse and Addiction

Cocaine addiction can have serious and irreversible effects on your health, but with the right treatment, anyone can recover. At Moving Mountains Recovery, we help clients regain control over their lives in a safe, supportive community. Our approach involves individualized care, evidence-based treatment, and a commitment to nurturing lasting recovery.

If you’re interested in learning more about our cocaine addiction treatment programs or getting started with a confidential, risk-free assessment, please contact us today.

1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of cocaine use in the United States? Retrieved September 2023 from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states

2. National Library of Medicine: Illicit drugs: Effects on eye, Retrieved September 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6886135/

3. National Library of Medicine: Ocular manifestations of drug and alcohol abuse, Retrieved September 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4545665/

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